Archive for December 2008

Merry Christmas

December 21, 2008

And Happy Holidays!

I’ll be enjoying the holidays with my granddaughter (and most especially with the AstroWife!), so I’ll not be posting for a few days.  See?  You get a break from me for a present!

Wishing you all the best for Christmas and for the new year.  I hope we make the best of the gifts we’ve been given.



Slippery Slopes

December 20, 2008

So Stupid That It Takes The Government To Think Of It

My gut registered disgust as I read this article – enough that I hesitate to blog about it during the Christmas season. We’ll categorize it and highlight it by noting that one of the worst things a person can do, one of the biggest sins, is to point to a just and good man and say “sucker!” That’s what California has just done.

Being a good Samaritan in California just got a little riskier.

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a young woman who pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle isn’t immune from civil liability because the care she rendered wasn’t medical.

The divided high court appeared to signal that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. It was also thought to be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervened in an accident in good faith could be sued.

In brief, two co-workers left a party (in 2004) in separate cars. Lisa Troti, in the second, saw Alexandra Van Horn hit a light pole at 45 mpg, and after seeing liquid pouring from the car, pulled Van Horn from the wreckage in a panic. She feared an explosion.

Van Horn suffered a broken vertebra that damaged her spinal cord. She’s suing Troti for causing her paralysis.

“Sucker!” According to the California supreme court a rescue attempt like that makes you liable. Don’t bother with CPR, either. Better you sit on your hands. And don’t even think about saving a drowning person, George Bailey. Potter will sue you – successfully. Ho-Ho-Ho!

And just how did all this get started? It started, apparently, with “shield laws”, which were put in place with the intent of limiting the liability of professionals, like EMS personnel, from just these kinds of law suits. They were not intended to expose Good Samaritans. That’s just how it worked.

We could have told you. It’s called a slippery slope.  For our next trick we’ll demonstrate how cigarette warning labels lead to higher unemployment, by way of McDonald’s being sued for serving junk food.  [That’s ridiculous! – ed.  Just wait 10 minutes. – j]

Okay – I’ll stop hyperventilating and get more rational by the evening.

Thanks and a hat tip to Ed Morrissey at Hot Air for the link.

The Final Froniter

December 18, 2008

Where Every Man – And Woman – Will Go

Every space and science blog is reporting that actress Majel Barrett Roddenberry has died at the age of 76 of leukemia.

She was the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury, a regular cast member of the original series as Nurse Chappel (and as Number 1 in the original pilot), and was later the computer voice in the Next Generation Star Trek series, as well as a frequent guest star as Lwaxana Troi.

The Atmosphere Ripped Open

December 17, 2008

Sorta, Kinda.  Maybe.

I saw this just the other day at It caught my eye.

The Sun on 17 Dec. 2008

The Sun on 17 Dec. 2008

Scientists have found two large leaks in Earth’s magnetosphere, the region around our planet that shields us from severe solar storms.

The leaks are defying many of scientists’ previous ideas on how the interaction between Earth’s magnetosphere and solar wind occurs: The leaks are in an unexpected location, let in solar particles in faster than expected and the whole interaction works in a manner that is completely the opposite of what scientists had thought.

Then I noticed this by Anthony Watts at Watt’s Up With That?

Observations made by NASA instruments onboard an Air Force satellite have shown that the boundary between the Earth’s upper atmosphere and space has moved to extraordinarily low altitudes. These observations were made by the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite, which was launched aboard the U.S. Air Force’s Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite on April 16, 2008.

Watts was one of the first to notice that there have been very, very few sun spots this cycle (the sun’s disk has been almost blank for nearly two years now – click on the photo of the sun to see what it was like on Dec. 17).  Today he follows up with this.

This sounds like a plot of a 1950’s scifi movie. But it is real. From my view, our localized corner of the solar system is now different than it used to be and changes in the magnetic interactions are evident everywhere. First we have the interplanetary magnetic field that took an abrupt dive in October 2005 and has not recovered since and remains at very low level[.]

Then we have the recent discovery that the ionosphere has dropped in altitude to unexpected and unexplained low levels.

We have a solar cycle 24 (driven by the solar magnetic dynamo) which can’t seem to get out of the starting gate, being a year late with forecasts for activity from it being revised again and again.

And finally we have this, this discovery that Earth’s magnetic field can be ripped open and our atmosphere laid bare to the solar wind, much like Mars.

This last comes from NASA News.

NASA’s five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth’s magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to “load up” the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction.”

Yeah – this is the same NASA I called “less than credible” just the day before last.  The difference here, however, is that the article referenced is just a straight forward reporting of the data and of the researcher’s surprise.  If there’s dogma or political opinion in the piece, it’s in the description of older scientific beliefs being overturned as inadequate.

Regardless, something’s up. My gut (and I have no more to go on than that) says that Watts is onto something when he ties together the lack of sunspots, the earth’s ionosphere and the weather (including climate change).

It’s Melting! Panic! Run Away!

December 16, 2008

AP: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

The Associated Press has been going to town on the topic of Global Warming – um – “Climate Change”, quite a bit of late.   From Seth Borenstein

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can’t avoid.

Since Clinton’s inauguration, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since Clinton’s second inauguration. Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it.

He uses phrases in the article like “We’re out of time” and “Gore called the situation ‘the equivalent of a five-alarm fire that has to be addressed immediately.'” The sea level is going to rise “immediately”, and Armageddon will be happening decades sooner than “we” expected.

Oh wait.  I made that last one up.   Couldda sworn I saw it in the write-up, though.  Don’t know if that impression came from the AP or from the expertise that was quoted or a combination of both, but I couldda sworn…

Anyway, the AP continues with an article the very next day on the American Geophysical Union conference.

More than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming.

I particularly like this quote: I believe you’ll soon find it in your Funk and Wagnall’s under the definition of the word ‘ignorance’.

“The pace of change is starting to outstrip our ability to keep up with it, in terms of our understanding of it,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., a co-author of the Arctic amplification study.

Ahem.  Yes.  We’ll leave aside NASA’s political credibility problems (H/T: Rand Simberg), but it’s harder to ignore the credibility problems in their science, most especially when they intersect.

So what are we to do with this information?  Is it, for instance, confirmed by multiple sources?  How about this from National Geograghic?

With more global warming in store, researchers said, the prognosis is grim for the Arctic’s so-called perennial sea ice, which is the ice that survives through the summer.

At the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, some scientists argued yesterday that the end of the perennial ice is near.

“If this trend persists, the Arctic would be ice-free [in the summer] by 2013,” said Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Looks scary.  In fact, I had to look twice because I thought at first that this was another report from the same meeting at the AGU conference.  They report the same observed effects all right.  I have only one problem with it – look at the dates.  Ohhhhh – another problem.  Correcting Hansen’s mistaken software makes the earlier story less than credible.  Maybe I should use the word wrong.

And the press is recycling the bad information.

And it continues to amaze that they report the AGU meeting so breathlessly in the face of this.

A blast of Arctic air Tuesday morning has much of the nation — from the Great Lakes to Oregon and down to Texas — in its cold, icy grip.

The temperature at International Falls, Minnesota, was 26 below zero at 8 a.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

To the south in Minneapolis, below-zero temperatures were leaving roadways covered in black ice, sending drivers spinning into numerous accidents, CNN affiliate KARE-TV reported Tuesday.

Black ice, nearly invisible on roads, can form when car exhaust freezes on snow-covered pavement in sub-zero conditions, KARE said. Twin Cities drivers could find a little hope in the day’s forecast high — 4 degrees above zero by the afternoon.

Temperatures hovering as low as 23 below zero have parts of Montana frozen in their tracks, according to CNN affiliate KFBB-TV.

The forecast high Tuesday for Great Falls: 5 degrees.

Maybe the information has outstripped the ability of the press to deal with it.

A Catholic In Secret

December 15, 2008

How Is That Necessary?

unionjackI’ve been reading Bishop Charles Chaput, of late – excellent book. I really recommend it – and just got through his description of life for Catholics in colonial Maryland circa the end of the 17th century.  It wasn’t exactly the land of the free for everyone back then, and it certainly wasn’t full of religious tolerance.

Surprised?  Weren’t the colonies populated by people looking for religious freedom?  Sure.  They were looking for the freedom to practice their religion, not for someone else’s freedom to practice his.  And Papists were a distinctly unfavored minority amongst the settlers. “Popery” was against the law in Maryland, in fact.

The British tabloid The Mail reports that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was secretly a Catholic while he held office.

Full details of how Tony Blair ordered Downing Street officials to lie about his passionate commitment to Roman Catholicism throughout his ten years in No 10 emerged yesterday.

Spin-doctor Lance Price said Mr Blair told him to kill off an accurate Press report in 1998 – months after he took power – that he had spoken candidly of his Catholic faith to an Italian cleric on a holiday in Tuscany.

Careful now. The British tabloid is acting just like an American Tabloid. Here, they quote one Lance Price, who is described as a ‘spin-doctor’, who quotes Blair, in turn.

‘He asked me to squash a story that he had told the Archbishop of Siena, “In my heart, I feel more of a Catholic,”’ said Mr Price, an ex-Downing Street deputy Press secretary.

Feeling more of a Catholic doesn’t actually make you one, of course.

So why keep his religious leanings a secret?  Well, there’s British law…

Mr Price said there were huge gaps in Mr Blair’s knowledge of Catholicism. ‘We said, “You do realise the heir to the throne can’t marry a Roman Catholic and still go on to be King?”

He was astonished. I thought it was something everyone learned at school.’

Rather like Maryland law in 1683, where a Catholic could not hold office.  Or vote for anyone to hold that office, either.  Except that Blair wasn’t likely to become king.  Prime Minister is something else entirely.

Although there has never been a Catholic Premier, there is no constitutional bar. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy are Catholics.

In BBC1’s Christmas Voices today, Mr Blair says he did not convert in office because it would have been ‘a palaver’ and he feared talking about his religious beliefs would lead to people dismissing him as a ‘nutter’.

Ah! So it wasn’t the law after all, that prevented Blair from converting while in office.

Call it – tradition.

No Bailout For Detroit

December 12, 2008

This Time, Anyway

Defeated in the Senate by a filibuster threat, the compromise bill to bail out the automakers to the tune of $14 billion failed to pass with the necessary votes to achieve cloture.  A good thing, or a bad thing?

Weeeelllllll…. We live in a “Capitalist” society.  Actually, strike that – it’s a Marxist term.  In this country we have a free-market economy.  Ed Morrissey gets it right when he says:

[C]ongratulations to Senate Republicans. Most of them, and a few Democrats like Baucus and Tester and Blanche Lincoln, must have read their Robert Byrd Pocket Constitutions and realized that the federal government has no role in bailing out out private enterprise with taxpayer money.

There probably (definitely) are better places to put taxpayer monies right now than in the auto-industry, yes?  So unlike the Chrysler bailout of the ’70s, the Senate (if not Nancy Pelosi’s House) is making a better bet and being true to American principles by not agreeing to hand over $14 billion like that this time.  But make no mistake – this is gonna hurt.  The only question, then, is will it hurt less than the alternatives?  Wouldn’t more people ultimately lose their jobs if the money is lent and GM goes bankrupt anyway?  Possibly.

And there’s a second consideration.  The candle making industry collapsed after Edison came along.  If letting the (not so) big three automakers go the way of the do-do paves the way for the makers of the Jetson’s flying car, then bring it on, I say.  If the bankruptcy of GM allows Ford, their suppliers and some other, smaller US auto manufacturer to exist until the next Edison builds that flying car, then that’s a good thing.  Or at least, a not-so-bad thing.  Right now the US economy is saddled with a 100 year old industry that is itself saddled with work-rules that keep it unproductive, not to mention crushing pension obligations (call them chickens that have come home to roost).  All that’s not going away until the industry does.

Trouble is, I don’t exactly see anybody making flying cars, yet.  Maybe that’s okay – I didn’t know about Bill Gates and his little start-up company in 1979 either.